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Mobtown Beat

Final Examiner

Examiner reporters Stephen Janis and Luke Broadwater Talk About the Paper's Imminent Closure

Frank Hamilton
Examiner reporter Steve Janis doing man on the street interviews at Obama's Whistle Stop Tour in Baltimore.

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 1/29/2009

"It was a complete shock," Luke Broadwater says when asked how he felt about the news that the Baltimore Examiner will publish its last issue Feb. 15. "You know, I guess you could read the writing on the wall with the bad economy. Everybody is cutting back and jobs are being lost and so forth."

Broadwater, a reporter who joined the paper just a month after its April 2006 startup in Baltimore, is now one of about 90 Examiner employees who will likely be out of work in a couple of weeks.

At 10 a.m. on Jan. 29 at a full-staff meeting, Clarity Media Group CEO Ryan McKibben told Examiner employees that Clarity, the division of Anschutz Entertainment Group that operates the Examiner newspapers in Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and San Francisco, decided it was time to pull the plug on the Baltimore publication.

According to a memo from McKibben, which was widely distributed online within a short time of the 10 a.m. meeting, Clarity Media made the "very difficult decision" to shutter the paper after "several months of very active, but unsuccessful efforts to find a buyer for the newspaper." McKibben's memo indicates that the company tried to form a "synergistic" revenue system between the Baltimore and Washington papers, linking the two properties' marketing and advertising efforts, but the shrinking U.S. economy made it impossible "to maintain two major daily newspapers within a 50-mile distance and do justice to both publications." As a result, Clarity decided to put The Examiner up for sale, but McKibben says the dynamics of the recession kept buyers away.

Nobody within the Baltimore Examiner newsroom knew the paper was up for sale. "Reporters aren't really privy to the business side, and they didn't tell us anything," says Broadwater, who was home sick during the Jan. 29 meeting and learned about the news in a phone call from his editor. "So it was a complete surprise."

Reporter Stephen Janis, a former City Paper freelancer who took a job with The Examiner when it first opened in Baltimore, says he was also shocked to hear the news.

"I can say honestly that none of us had any sense that this was coming," he says. "I think maybe our publisher said he had found out about it last night in his remarks, but I think it surprised the entire company."

It was a surprise to many in the media community as well. No one City Paper has contacted had heard that the paper was on the market. Asked if he had seen any indication that the Examiner might be going out of business, City Paper publisher Don Farley says no.

"I think they did a really good job of being quiet about this," he says. Although the announcement seemed abrupt, Farley says the timing was probably an attempt to close up shop before the end of the company's first financial quarter. "I think they saw the trend of how the first quarter was going and decided to stop."

In July 2008, the paper reduced its home delivery to two days per week, eliminated its Saturday edition, and came out with a new Sunday edition; according to Janis, it has also been reducing the size of its staff through attrition.

"When people were leaving we weren't filling positions, since about last summer," he says. "When someone would leave they wouldn't rehire. I think, to give you my best estimate, we'd gone from 16 general-assignment reporters to nine."

The irony of the situation is that the paper, on the verge of closure, is probably at its strongest editorially. When the paper first hit the Baltimore streets, Broadwater says, the emphasis was on quantity over quality. But as The Examiner and its staff matured, so did its content.

"You know, I think when we first came out people thought we would be this sort of shopper thing," Broadwater says. "But it turned out after a year or so we were, I think, a good newspaper."

One sign of that, Janis says, is that in 2008 the paper won five MDDC (Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia) Press Association Awards. Up against other major dailies, including The Washington Post and The Baltimore Sun, it took honors for its investigative series on the city's homicide rate, an investigative story on unsolved murders in Baltimore, an editorial on the city school system, and for its sports section.

Messages left at the Examiner office seeking comment from either editor Frank Keegan or publisher Michael Beatty were not returned as of this writing. Neither was a call to Clarity spokesman Jim Monaghan.

Broadwater says he's not sure what will happen after Feb. 15--he says he's not sure if there will be opportunities for any staffers to find work at the Washington Examiner, though he says he's not counting on it. Janis says he's planning to remain in journalism in some form, despite the rather dismal media climate.

"I can say this much at this point: I'm not done," he says. "I'm not finished because being a reporter is being a reporter and that's a job that can continue even in different forms."

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